Captain Jonathan Mercer
We are now safely docked in this beautiful natural harbour, nestling under the ‘heights’ on which stand the Spanish fortifications and the ‘old’ town.
We have, in terms of weather, had an eventful 48 hours since leaving Port Everglades on Saturday. Having docked in a ‘nor’easter’, it had shown no signs of abating on departure, and our ‘Thanksgiving’ guests experienced the motion of the ocean as soon as we started our transit of the Straits of Florida.
This week has seen an unfortunate combination of weather patterns — a high-pressure area building over the southeastern U.S., a low-pressure area over the eastern seaboard and another low-pressure area over the Tropical Atlantic.
The combination of the three has resulted in our weather being more than one would wish for. The high pressure and the Atlantic low combined to give us very strong northeasterly winds and the eastern seaboard low is responsible for a steep Atlantic swell of around 12 feet. As most of our courses towards Grand Turk and later, San Juan, are generally southeast, this resulted in both wind and waves being on our port beam and our stabilisers having to work overtime.
Despite my optimism, the weather had shown no signs of abating when we arrived off Grand Turk Monday morning. A massive swell was funnelling down between Grand Turk and the islands, and the wind was blowing — 40 knots on average — although we experienced gusts nearer 50 knots.
During our calls at Grand Turk, I have experienced a drop or shift in the wind when nearer the pier itself and to this end, we made three close ‘passes’ of the pier. ‘Close’ being a prudent distance off, the sight of the surf and swell, breaking on Grand Turk itself and the shallow reefs to the south, was enough to keep any mariner wary of getting too close.
After two hours of waiting off the island, in the hope of an easing of the conditions, I reluctantly made the decision to cancel our call. If you read the blog regularly, you are aware of the ‘E’s parameters for wind, and this was way more than anything she could handle.
As we made our way around the north of the island, my time was taken in making reports to our corporate office and speaking to our agent in San Juan. It was my intention to dock there as soon as possible, rather than wait for our scheduled arrival, the reason being two-fold. A guest needed medical attention and although our excellent medical staff are extremely capable, this was a case that needed equipment we do not possess, and secondly, I had no wish to subject our guests and crew to the movement we were experiencing any longer than was necessary.
So we wound the ‘E’ up and, making over 21 knots, (in the weather conditions I did not want to ‘open her up’ as that would have been more uncomfortable), headed for San Juan.
The wind only abated when we neared the approaches to the port and even then was still around 25 knots. The swell and conditions were such that I advised the pilot that I would embark him inside the harbour, trying to do so outside would have been unsafe for him, so he boarded as we entered the buoyed channel, under the lee of the Old Town and El Morro.
So, at 2:30 in the morning, we docked at #4 pier west. Medical teams and an ambulance were there on arrival and we disembarked our guest to the hospital.
The Customs and Border Protection officers had kindly allowed us to conduct this exercise without going through clearance procedures and having done so, we ‘shut up shop’, closing our break doors until later that morning, when they would formally clear us and our guests could go ashore and enjoy Puerto Rico. Just as importantly, my officers and crew could get some rest, as they had had a busy few hours.